A Day in the Mangahao M
20 February 2013
The Mangahao dams are at least two hours’ drive from Wellington, a time that seems even longer after you’ve driven the last twenty kilometres of steep and winding dirt road in second gear. Back in the 1920s, the valley above the dams, despite the new road, was usually approached from the Ohau, partly perhaps because use of the road was discouraged (even when I first went in the ’seventies I had to report to the Power Station in case there were large vehicles on the road) and partly because of the short gorge above the top dam which was impassable on foot. There was a route however which avoided the gorge. It went up a side creek of the Mangahao (Baber Creek, named after a forebear of Lynne Pomare, a surveyor who visited this stream in 1879) and down the next (Dick Creek), crossing a low saddle between them. A track sidling above the gorge wasn’t available till the late ’thirties, when the old route must have been made very unattractive by the 1936 storm.
We used the old route, following the directions in “Tararua Footprints”. Going up Baber Creek was very pleasant on a beautiful summer’s day. The top forks are easily missed, the TR branch, the one we wanted, is so small – we backtracked a little. The creek after that gets rather overgrown, and before we’d got as far as the Guide suggests you should, I gave up and climbed out to find above us very easy second-growth kamahi forest. I suspect that Merv Rodger’s route in the creek beds is the way he happened to go, and that the cairns he mentions were ones he built! The better option now that the bush has grown back more is probably to take to the centre spur at the forks; it leads directly to the saddle.
Beyond the saddle the bush is in a much better state, and whether you turn left or right there are gentle spurs which will take you down into Dick Creek. Slow but straightforward progress had us on the main track beside the Mangahao by three o’clock.
This was the moment some at least had been waiting for: a swim down the wonderful long still pools of the gorge. A few took straight to the sidle track, and later confirmed what Merv says, that the Grand Old Duke of York seems to have had a hand in its design, for ‘sidle’ is a euphemism. One or two more soon abandoned the river because of cramp or failure of flotation device. Only seven, all women bar the leader, had the truly exceptional pleasure of floating and gently swimming down those deep as deep pools with their high rock walls. It made this, as I had hoped it would, a trip out of the ordinary.
- Party members
- Joan Basher, Marg Conal, Ken Fraser, Tricia French, Jan Nye, Lynne Pomare, Peter Reimann, Penny Salmond, Bob Stephens, John Thomson (leader and scribe), Bill Wheeler, Rosemary Wilson, Warwick Wright